Today at Mobile World Congress, Nokia launched their new 808 PureView. It’s a smartphone. A smartphone with a 41 Megapixel camera.
I know what you’re thinking. I thought the same thing: Those have got to be the worst 41 megapixels in existence. That’s outright absurd. And then I looked at the images. This thing is phenomenal. In fact, this thing is the future of casual photography.
First of all, the phone itself is only moderately interesting. It’s running Symbian, a pretty much dead smartphone OS, but this is about the camera. It’s not necessarily the camera in THIS phone, but the fact that we are likely to see similar imaging units on lots of smartphones as we go forward. So, does this 41 Megapixel behemoth stand up?
The camera uses a quite large sensor…larger than in almost any point and shoot, and almost as large as the one in Nikon’s mirrorless 1 Series. That by itself is fantastic. Then, they crammed 41 megapixels onto it and made it multi-aspect, so in 4:3 or 16:9, it uses the whole lens image circle, yielding 38 or 34MP images respectively. Now as most photographers know, the higher the pixel density, the higher the noise in those pixels. And it’s true: At full resolution, these pixels aren’t a whole lot better than most cell phone pixels…but because there are so many of them, it’s the lower resolutions that are awesome. The camera can natively downsample to 5.3 or 8 megapixels, or you can shoot at full resolution and downsample yourself. The thing is, when this sucker is downsampled, the images are GOOD. Really, REALLY good.
Below is a reduced size image (to 1200 pixels) of a full resolution image frame from the 808. Click to enlarge it, and you’ll see it looks pretty good.
Now, that looks pretty good. However, I brought the full resolution image into Photoshop and downsampled first to 12 megapixels, and then to 8 megapixels. The following shots are 100% crops from the above image, at those resolutions. This is an incredible level of detail and clarity, and it’s from a CELL PHONE.
I, for one, am astonished that the above images came from a cell phone. At normal image resolutions, the image looks as clear as on even the very best compact digital cameras, and even rival DSLR quality for clarity and pure sensor image quality. Dynamic range isn’t super awesome (shadows seem to block up quickly), but that’s pretty much the only criticism, and remember…this is a phone.
This is the future, ladies and gentlemen. Not for us enthusiast photographers, who will always demand versatility, lens options, shallow depth of field and responsiveness, but for the everyday casual photographer. When cameras of this quality are in every cell phone, NO ONE will carry dedicated compact digital cameras any more. Why would you? I know I sure wouldn’t. The images in good light out of this camera are good enough to print to at least 18″ wide and probably larger, and look amazing. Nokia has managed to get a cell phone camera to produce images that rival the very best fixed lens digital cameras, and are not too far off from many interchangeable lens cameras. The downsampled images are better than any compact camera I’ve ever owned, and to my eye look better even than the outstanding Fuji X10. The future is here now, and I don’t think we’ll ever turn back.
One more image, this one reduced by the phone in its 5.3 Megapixel mode. Click for the full image size. Amazing clarity and even pretty good color response. I only wish it were on an iPhone instead of a Europe-only Symbian device.